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December 15, 2011
Transaction Analysis
Paul to the Clippers

by Dan Feldman

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Los Angeles Clippers

Acquired Chris Paul and two 2015 second-round picks in exchange for Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and Minnesota's 2012 first-round pick. [12/14]

When I first learned of the trade, two players came to mind: John Stockton and Karl Malone. Paul and Blake Griffin have the potential to be the best point guard-power forward combo since the Jazz duo, maybe even better.

That--not a title, given how mismatched the Clippers' roster is right now--is an appropriate bar for measuring the magnitude of this deal.

Paul and Griffin could have been excellent separately. Paul is a once-in-a-generation player when healthy. No guard other than Michael Jordan has posted better WARPs since 1980 than Paul's 25.6 in 2008-09 and 24.2 in 2007-08. Griffin's WARP last year (12.5) was the best by a rookie since Paul and Tim Duncan before that.

Together, their potential is incredible. Paul is a tremendous passer, and Griffin is a tremendous finisher. Whether on the fastbreak or in the halfcourt, Paul-to-Griffin alley-oops could pass Stockton-to-Malone pick-and-rolls as the signature play by an NBA duo.

Still, Stockton-Malone is a high bar, and at their peak, they were much better than Paul and Griffin were last year. It's a reachable goal, but Paul and Griffin aren't Stockton and Malone yet. Here's how Paul and Griffin, in red, compared separately last season compared to each of the 18 years Stockton and Malone played together, in purple:

Paul also improves his teammates' three-point percentages, which means opposing defenses will have to pay more attention to the perimeter and less to Griffin inside. Even when Paul isn't passing to Griffin, his mere presence should improve Griffin's looks.

More directly, that skill should benefit new small forward Caron Butler, who relied on Jason Kidd the same way in Dallas. Before joining the Mavericks, Butler was a 31 percent three-point shooter. With Dallas, he shot 39 percent from beyond the arc.

The issue in Los Angeles is, other than Butler, a lack of players to take advantage of Paul's ability to set them up for three-pointers. The Clippers ranked 25th in three-point percentage last year and were below average in three-pointers made despite playing at an above-average pace. They had just four above-average three-point shooters: Brian Cook, Mo Williams, Jamario Moon and Eric Gordon.

Gordon was traded to New Orleans, and Moon was renounced by the Clippers and is still a free agent. Williams, a 6-foot-1 point guard, doesn't figure to play much with Paul. Cook isn't a good enough shooter to specialize, given how poorly he does everything else.

Randy Foye could see his three-point percentage improve, but one, his modest gains likely wouldn't make as significant of an impact as a good outside shooter becoming great with Paul, and two, Foye might not even start.

Chauncey Billups, acquired off amnesty waivers from the Knicks, is a superior player even if his main position is point guard. Billups is an excellent outside shooter, but he often likes to dribble into a rhythm before hoisting three-pointers, so Paul's crisp passes wouldn't benefit him immensely, either.

But that's a problem with how Paul fits with only a single starter. As much as he might do for Griffin and Butler, Paul could make the biggest impact on center DeAndre Jordan. Griffin has a bright future regardless of his teammates, and Butler has had success before. Jordan is still finding his way, and Paul could make his journey a lot easier.

In fact, Paul might even turn Jordan into the next Tyson Chandler, like he did with, well, Tyson Chandler. Paul's lobs inside to Chandler with the Hornets gave the big man legitimate-looking offense for the first time. And Paul's hawkish defense--featuring an uncanny ability to generate a lot of steals without overly gambling--meant the few opposing players who got by him were usually at least a little off track as they tried to shoot over Chandler protecting the rim and collecting blocks. After an off year with the Bobcats, Chandler did the same types of things with Kidd in Dallas to great success.

Jordan has the potential to fill Chandler's role, and nobody in the league is more capable of helping him reach it than Paul. That's Paul's real value. He'll make the players around him better, increasing their value.

With his teammates looking more appealing because of him, maybe Paul can get a better shooting guard to team with. And a bench.

Eric Bledsoe, who showed flashes at point guard as a rookie last year, might be the odd man out. Williams and Foye can play a bit, too. Reworking that trio into a shooting guard who fits better next to Paul could go a long way in getting him to stay with the Clippers.

After all, unless Chris Paul re-signs in two years, this trade will likely go down as a failure--worth the risk, but a failure nonetheless.

The clock is ticking.

New Orleans Hornets

Acquired Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and Minnesota's 2012 first-round pick in exchange for Chris Paul and two 2015 second-round picks. [12/14]

This is Gordon's team now. Paul, the unquestioned star of the franchise is a Clipper, and his sidekick, David West, signed with the Pacers. Trevor Ariza, who averaged 11.0 points per game last year, is the team's leading returning scorer. (Carl Landry averaged 11.8 points per game with the Hornets last year and is a free agent, though he might return.)

Gordon has the potential to be a No. 1 guy, but it will be an adjustment for him. In his three years in the NBA, Gordon never led the Clippers in usage.

Last year, 54.8 percent of Gordon's shots were assisted. That's more than the five other shooting guards who averaged more than 18 points per game, with the exception of Kevin Martin, a spot-up shooter with the ability to get to the free-throw line extremely often who's an exception to nearly every rule.

Gordon will be asked to fill a role more like those other four players--Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis and Joe Johnson--because the Hornets don't have anyone to pass him the ball and set up his shots. Jarrett Jack, a combo guard, is their starting point guard for now. Don't expect much inside-out passing either, given the Clippers' big men are Kaman and Emeka Okafor.

A plus ballhandler and distributor for his position, Gordon can ease some of Jack's burden, but the question remains: who will set up Gordon? In particular, Gordon was assisted much more on outside jumpers than his high-scoring off-guard peers (except Martin, of course).

Last year, Gordon's percentage of baskets at the rim that were assisted dropped drastically from the previous two seasons. Considering his athleticism, he's a good bet to keep getting to the rim with less help and keep drawing a high number of fouls. But if Gordon's three-point shooting suffers without someone to set him up from long distance, his stellar true shooting percentage will drop.

There are also the questions about Gordon's strong defense and poor rebounding. Will he defend as well if he's exerting more energy on offense? Will he rebound better without Griffin and Jordan, and even Ike Diogu, stealing boards?

Gordon as a No. 1 option as an experiment. Given his impressive tools, already quality production and youth, an experiment worth conducting--but an experiment nonetheless.

Aminu is a project. He's a great athlete with good length, but he shoots poorly, turns the ball over too much and needs to fill out physically. He has the skills of a power forward and the body of a small forward. It's an honest question which he gains first: enough refinement to play small forward or enough weight to play power forward. My guess is the latter, but the rebuilding Hornets have time to wait and see.

The Hornets probably don't see Kaman as much more than an expiring contract, or at least they shouldn't. Kaman has very obvious strengths, namely scoring in the post and rebounding. He blocks shots OK, too. But his weaknesses--turnovers, drawing fouls and defensive mobility--are just as, if not more, influential. At 7 feet, Kaman certainly has a spot in the NBA, but some team will likely overpay given his scoring and rebounding averages.

It shouldn't be the Hornets, who need to focus on building for the future, not re-signing a 30-year-old Kaman next summer.

Gordon, Aminu and the Minnesota pick are a great start toward that end.

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Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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